Jonathan Olley/Lucasfilm Ltd.
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April 05, 2018 at 05:58 PM EDT

Star Wars was born at the Cannes Film Festival, and now its latest installment is heading back.

Solo: A Star Wars Story will premiere at the international cinema event on May 15, just 10 days before debuting worldwide on May 25, according to The Hollywood Reporter.  

The red carpet gathering will take place within the shadow of the Carlton Hotel, where a scrawny aspiring filmmaker struck the deal that would spark the creation of a whole other galaxy.

We’ve told this tale before. But a good story is worth hearing again:

George Lucas was a nobody.

He was sleeping on the couch of a friend, who was also a filmmaker, trying to hustle a pair of movies to any film studio that would hear him out. But there were no takers.

The 27-year-old USC film grad did have a finished motion picture under his belt, 1971’s dystopian thriller THX 1138, but nobody really wanted that either. The Cannes Film Festival had allowed it into its lineup, so that was something. A feather in Lucas’ cap. He was getting ready to jet to the French Riviera (on his own dime, not that he had a lot of dimes).

“I came as a poor, destitute film student,” Lucas told me in 2007, sitting in the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, just a few floors away and down the hall from where he signed the deal that would change his life, not to mention make movie history.

But we’re getting ahead of things. First came the hard times.

His more experienced friend, the one with the couch, had pulled some strings and gotten THX 1138 a distributor, but now that same friend was in anguish while struggling to make his own film, a period gangster drama that wasn’t going well. The studio kept threatening to fire him at any moment.

If George Lucas was going to make a deal for his next project, he wouldn’t be able to rely on Francis Ford Coppola for help. The couch was all Coppola could give him. The troubled production of The Godfather was ruining him, and Coppola thought it would end his career before he ever really got started.

Lucas had already exhausted his options in Los Angeles, but while staying at Coppola’s home, he set up meetings in New York with anyone in the film business whom he could. He had one big chance, a longshot: United Artists CEO David Picker, the man credited with making the deal for the 007 movies, the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, and for forging a partnership with Woody Allen in his prime.

Picker agreed to the sit-down with Lucas but quickly brushed him off. “I pitched it to him there in New York, and he said, ‘Well, in a week or so I’m going to the Cannes Film Festival…'” The implication was simple: Picker would be making a lot of deals there, so he wasn’t about to crack open the piggy bank just yet. He had a buying spree planned and said he was sure young Lucas understood.

George did understand, perfectly. “I said, ‘I’m going, too! I have a movie there.'” This piqued Picker’s interest. “He said, ‘Okay, come and see me there,'” Lucas recalled. “Then I came and saw him, and he’d been thinking about it.”

Suddenly, amid the buying frenzy of the Cannes Film Festival, Picker actually was interested.

But Star Wars wasn’t even a top priority for Lucas. The main project he was trying to sell was a coming-of-age story set in the California car culture during the early 1960s — American Graffiti.

“So I pitched it to him, and he said, ‘Okay, we’ll do it. Or at least, we’ll give you the $10 to write the script,” Lucas recalled. “Then he said, ‘Do you have any other films?’ I said, ‘Well, I have this sort of space opera thing. It’s sort of an action-adventure film in space.'”

Sales pitch of the year.

But Picker went for it. “He said, ‘Okay, we’ll make a deal for that, too,'” Lucas told me, snapping his fingers. “Just like that.”

What changed after so much disinterest? Was it the French wine? The jet lag? The Directors’ Fortnight screening of THX 1138 in the Cannes festival’s indie section? Something sparked interest in his ideas that wasn’t there before.

Lucas was never sure, even years later. He guessed Picker was just in a gambling mood.

Never tell him the odds, you could say.

That’s not the end of the story. Eventually, Picker altered the deal … and Lucas had to shop Star Wars elsewhere. Skip down through that article to see how the rest unfolded.

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